Trump's foreign policy is too dangerous for Israel
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Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE's so-called foreign policy speech on Aug. 15 was a cobbled together heap of cliches and contradictions. Shuffling a loose collection of disjointed facts and unrelated talking points, it lacked any coherent intellectual focus, and rather looked as if it had been fashioned haphazardly by professional political operatives. To be sure, it was a welcome digression from Trump's usual barrage of purely ad hominem attacks upon his opponent — a strategy designed to deflect attention from more complex and hard-to-explain issues of genuine substantive importance — but it still managed to steer clear of exhibiting any discernible hints of meaningful thought.

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In one of his more conspicuous throwaway lines during the reading, candidate Trump called Israel America's "greatest ally," but his subsequent proposals for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suggested the opposite. By agreeing to side with any nation that would join us in the fight against ISIS, for example, the United States would simultaneously strengthen Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. Could this recommended tradeoff conceivably make any sense for America's overall foreign policy objectives? Could it possibly be consistent with peremptory American obligations under both national and international law?

For Jerusalem, this sort of U.S. national policy reasoning would be ominous on its face. To the extent that it would sometime allow Iran to arm the Shiite militia Hezbollah with certain mass destruction weapons, it could even prove to be unambiguously catastrophic. Already, Hezbollah has up to 150,000 rockets in its arsenals. Incrementally, expanding Hezbollah challenges to Israel's missile defenses could soon become staggering.

Crafting a nation's basic foreign policy is never a job for political operatives, marketing specialists or public relations experts. It is, rather, an inherently nuanced intellectual task, one that calls for a deep and genuine appreciation of changing strategic interdependencies, and also of corresponding legal obligations. It should not be "forgotten" by Trump that international law remains an integral part of the law of the United States, largely by way of the Constitution's Article VI Supremacy Clause, and of various associated Supreme Court decisions, especially the Paquete Habana (1900).

In his talk, Trump expressed a "unique" take on American alliances. Among other planned realignments, he indicated a gracious willingness to work closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the seemingly common issues of fighting ISIS. In principle, this cooperative spirit would appear to make sense. But in this declared policy largesse, the Republican nominee also willfully overlooked Moscow's deliberate bombing of civilian targets in Syria, as well as its utterly undiminished interest in strengthening anti-Israel Hezbollah.

For Israel, this Shiite militia is now assuredly more dangerous than most state adversaries, and arguably more insidious than ISIS. Why, then, should some now presume that Trump's foreign policy could actually help Israel? Even more incomprehensible, perhaps, this candidate's proposed anti-ISIS cooperation with Syria and Iran would ipso facto undermine the vital international legal regime against genocide and crimes against humanity.

Does Trump even understand that the United States is party to this regime, largely (but not exclusively) by virtue of its codified obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide?

Is this meandering indifference to Syrian mass-murder of civilians what an American president should now be advancing as a serious U.S. foreign policy objective? Further, could Israel, a state literally constructed upon the ashes of its own murdered people, possibly be encouraged by any such grotesque American policy goal?

There is more. Can it really make any sense for candidate Trump to advocate a foreign policy victory over ISIS at all costs, even if that "victory" should include both American complicity in egregious international crimes, and a corollary undermining of our "greatest ally" in Jerusalem? ISIS, it should not be forgotten, is only the recognizably visible symptom of a much wider and far more serious underlying disease. Ultimately, therefore, America and Israel will need to confront this common core enemy or pathology at much broader civilizational levels.

In the end, this collaborative and multivector civilizational war will have to be won at the conceptual or analytic level; that is, before it can ever be won on the literal battlefield. The ancient Greeks and Macedonians always spoke of a struggle involving "mind over mind." Accordingly, before the United States can be genuinely helpful to itself and to its "greatest ally," the next American president will first have to refrain from any planned substitutions of glib marketing copy for authentically challenging strategic thought.

During my almost half-century of teaching international relations at Princeton University and Purdue University, I routinely reminded my students that there exist multiple and intersecting axes of conflict in world politics. Understood in terms of Trump's foreign policy speech and Israel, this point means, inter alia, we ought not to assume that inflicting selected harms upon any one particular enemy is necessarily in our overall best interests. Instead, in carefully calculating needed steps to fashion or refashion American foreign policy, our next president must always bear in mind that what is appropriately harmful to one adversary or set of adversaries (e.g., ISIS) may at the same time be decidedly advantageous to other enemies.

Trump is so utterly focused on the single threat from ISIS that he is willing to tolerate deepening military cooperation between Iran and Russia. Already, Tehran allowed Russian military aircraft to operate against Syrian rebels from an Iranian air base in Hamadan Province. From the particular standpoint of Israeli national security, further encouraging such an allowance would make it increasingly difficult or operationally impossible to mount any residually defensive preemption against Iran. In other words, from the perspective of candidate Trump's expressed foreign policy preferences, it is reasonable to sacrifice Israel's most indispensable security requirements for the presumed sake of defeating a single sub-state Jihadist foe.

The ultimate irony of Trump's preferences here is that they would likely work on behalf of ISIS, while at the same time strengthening America's most formidable enemies. Although plainly unrecognized by Trump, the prospective existential threat to the United States from Russia is still immeasurably greater (literally) than any conceivable threat from ISIS. It follows, among many other incontestable flaws, that the randomly cobbled Trump foreign policy prescription is calculably injurious not only to Israel, but also to the United States.

In an elucidating way, Trump's confused and hastily concocted foreign policy advice closely mirrors a medical error. More specifically, it resembles urging one's oncologist not to become therapeutically burdened with the myriad complexities of treating a cancer in question as a disease, but instead to prescribe certain simpler-to-explain therapies because these simplifications would be more readily understood by the patient.

In this apt metaphor, both of the relevant "patients" — the United States and Israel — would be badly served by the deceptively simplifying Dr. Trump.

Moreover, for the more fragile Israeli patient, in particular, Dr. Trump's unsound prescriptions could sometime prove terminal.

Whatever happened, Dr. Trump, to "First do no harm"?

Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. His latest academic articles have been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School), International Security (Harvard), Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College (Department of Defense), International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Brown Journal of World Affairs and by Oxford University Press. Beres's 12th book, "Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy," was published earlier this year by Rowman & Littlefield.


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